Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Kevin Keegan Resigns: A Brief History To Understand Why He Left

The transfer deadline closed last night at midnight, with possibly Newcastle's chances of ever reaching the top four closing too.

The big losers in the amazing sale of Manchester City weren't Liverpool or even Chelsea. No, the big losers were Spurs, Aston Villa, Everton, and Newcastle.

How the managers, chairmen, and supporters of these clubs feel after the revelation that now City are a power to be reckoned with will only be seen in the next few weeks, as the slow realisation dawns on them that not only are the top four positions out of reach, but now the fifth position is gone too.

Kevin Keegan awoke this morning...
, looked at himself in the mirror, the hair that was once his famous trademark now gray with age. He saw the pronounced lines of age on his face where laughter lines should be, and realised that the club he loves so much had not only taken a step back in their transfers over the summer, but now the land that he dreamed he'd bring to the Geordie hoards was just that, a dream.

Kevin Keegan, once the most optimistic man in football, had been broken, again. But to fully understand why he resigned, we must first understand the man.

Keegan's first professional club was Scunthorpe, he signed his first professional deal at 15 but was quickly dismissed as being too small to play professionally. This only served to make Keegan train even harder, putting in double sessions every day and then training by himself at home.

Keegan eventually broke into the first team at 17 and went on to play over 124 games across three seasons in the old Division 4.

What was remarkable about this feat was Keegan's young age in such a tough league. In English football during the late 60's prisoners weren't taken on the pitch, especially in the lower leagues. The fact that Keegan played 124 times at such a young age in such a tough league marked him out as a player to take notice of.

In 1971 Bill Shankley did just that. Shankley had been monitoring Keegan for some time and, impressed by his work rate and superior fitness, he brought Keegan to Liverpool for a fee of £35,000 (this wouldn't happen today, div 4 to div 1).

Shankley immersed Keegan in all that was Liverpool during his first summer there. Training was done right, eating meals was done right—nothing was left to chance.

So impressed with his new signing from Division 4 was Shankly that he put him straight into the opening game of the new Division 1 season against Nottingham Forest. Keegan duly responded, returning the favour by scoring after 12 minutes of his debut.

Kevin Keegan had reached Division 1 at the age of 20. He had been rejected twice as a teen, and had worked harder, and trained harder than anyone else to achieve his dream.

But instead of being satisfied with Liverpool and playing in Division 1, now Keegan wanted to win the league and to play for England. To achieve this he knew he would have to be fitter, faster, and stronger than his rivals, so Keegan again took extra training to try to fulfill his new dream.

The extra work and playing regularly for Liverpool soon payed off, as Keegan made his debut for England U-23s in the old Home Nation Tournament.

Over the next six trophy-laden seasons at Liverpool, Keegan established himself as not only Liverpool's most important player, but quite possibly England's as well. During this golden period for Keegan he won the league three times, the FA Cup once, the UEFA Cup twice and the European Cup once.

In the 1976-77 season Liverpool won the league, Charity Shield, European Cup and it was only Manchester United's victory against them in the FA Cup final that stopped the team from winning the first treble in English Football.

Keegan was pivotal for club and country throughout. And at this stage of his career, ten years after starting his apprenticeship with Scunthorpe in Division 4, Keegan was perhaps the best if not most important player in Britain.

Then, after scoring 100 goals in 323 games, Kevin Keegan shook English football to its foundations by signing for German side Hamburg. He had achieved everything English club football had to offer. He dined at the table of greats and decided that what he had achieved wasn't enough.

In choosing Hamburg, Keegan turned down Spanish and Italian sides. He wanted to win trophies in Europe but he wanted to do it the hard way.

Initially Keegan failed to settle in Hamburg, his grasp of the language was poor and many felt he was a big name player taking it easy and earning huge wages. Hamburg were beaten by Liverpool in the European Super Cup—with Keegan's replacement Kenny Dalglish showing that Keegan wasn't missed.

Keegan's frustration's in Germany began to get the better of him, and he was sent off against Lubeck for punching a player. This, ironically, was perhaps the message he needed because after this lowest period in his career he began to knuckle down and although Hamburg finished 10th, Keegan went on to score 12 goals and win the European Footballer of the Year.

The following season, Hamburg won the Bundesliga with a settled Keegan instrumental throughout the season, he also won the European Footballer of the year award for the second time. The following season, Keegan's last at Hamburg, they were beaten by Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest in the final of the European Cup.

At the age of 29, Keegan announced he was leaving Hamburg, and sides around Europe courted the English star. But instead of choosing to see out his playing days in the sun, Keegan sent shockwaves through the football world by signing for Southampton.

This period at Southampton was perhaps what shaped Keegan's managerial style and football philosophy. The hardest working player in England was now part of the most flamboyant side in Britain.

The names just roll off the tongue, even now: Mick Channon, Alan Ball, Phil Boyer, and the majestic Charlie George entertained their way to title contenders.

The following season, a happy Keegan had gelled with his team mates and they were challenging for the title right up until March. But a poor run of form, resulting in only two wins in their last ten games, saw Southampton fall away.

This pattern was to be repeated at Newcastle, some 20 years later.

The 1982 season finished badly for Keegan. Carrying injuries and playing through the pain barrier began to take its toll physically, as England and Keegan wilted at Espana 82.

Mentally, Keegan was pre-occupied with next season and whether Southampton would make some defensive signings to strengthen the side. This would eventually lead to a massive split between Keegan and the manager, which ultimately resulted in Keegan leaving to join Newcastle Utd.

The Newcastle fans took to Keegan immediately, and considered it an honour that one of the greats of English football would choose them to finish his career with. Keegan helped Newcastle gain promotion to Division 1 in a side that played their way to victory.

Veterans Keegan and Terry McDermott were joined by a young Peter Beardsley and a new recruit who went by the name of Chris Waddle.

By this stage Keegan, although he loved Newcastle, was beginning to fall out of love with the game. At the end of the 1983-84 season and after a 18-year career, Keegan retired from football, vowing he would never return to the game to coach or manage.

Neverthelees, on February fifth, 1992, Kevin Keegan entered football management at Newcastle. He took over from Ossie Ardilles, who had steered Newcastle towards relegation from Division 3.

He was given the task to save Newcastle.

Survival was achieved, on the last day of the season. And with the Premier League being created, Newcastle and Keegan found themselves in Division 1, uninvited to the biggest football party English football had ever seen.

Newcastle started the season as one of the favorite's for relegation, but after winning their first 11 games that was quickly revised. Newcastle led the league from start to finish and were promoted to the Premier League as champions.

Keegan proved he had a ruthless streak, selling top scorer David Kelly and Division 1's best midfielder Liam O'Brien. He recruited Peter Beardsley and Andy Cole for Newcastle's first season in the big time.

Again they started the season as one of the favorites to go back down, but Newcastle finished third in their first season up. Between '93 and '96 Newcastle challenged for the title every year.

Their players included David Ginola, Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand, Phillipe Albert, Faustino Asprilla, and David Batty. Keegan's philosophy was entertaining their way to the title and Newcastle literally hit the cross bar.

It was during this '96 season that Keegan famously lost it after a match, after he had been psyched out by Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson. "I'd love it if we beat them", will follow Keegan to the grave.

Newcastle's run towards the end of the season mirrored Southampton's in 1982, leaving Newcastle a distant second after leading for so long. Keegan took this disappointment personally and struggled to overcome it before the new season.

Then, on January seventh, 1997, at the height of their powers, as another title challenge won the way, Keegan resigned as manager. Feeling he had nothing left to offer Newcastle and that he had taken them as far as he could, he walked away.

Again, he vowed to stay away from football.

But again the lure of football was too much, and in September 1997 Keegan returned to manage Fulham in Division 2. Keegan stayed in charge at Craven Cottage until 1999, when he became the national choice as England Manager.

After an initial period in charge where everything went right, the wheels started to come off in the Euro 2000 campaign. England beat rivals Germany 1-0 but were beaten by both Romania and Portugal and failed to qualify for the knockout stages.

The English media, as famously harsh as they are fickle, turned on Keegan for England's poor displays.

The final straw for Keegan occured at the final match at the old Wembley, as Germany won 1-0. With the media calling for his head and Keegan under severe pressure, he resigned.

Keegan again said he was walking away from the game and needed time to re-charge after his England ordeal. But the rest period only lasted seven months, with Keegan once again surprising everyone by taking over at Manchester City.

The four years in charge of Man City were largely fruitless, but Keegan showed he could be a shrewed manager guiding City to mid table safety on a shoe string budget.

In 2005 Kevin Keegan retired from football completely.

He was burnt out, and the game had changed massively from his time as a player. Keegan didn't like the direction football seemed to be taking, and stepped away from the competitive game. He set up the Soccer Circus roadshow in the hope of training young players and passing on some of his vast knowledge.

Then, on the 16th of January 2008, after three years away from the game, Keegan returned to the his spiritual home as manager of Newcastle.

Yet after just one month in charge Keegan had to be talked out of resigning by owner Mike Ashley. Keegan felt undermined after Ashley had appointed Dennis Wise as Director of Football.

Wise would take charge of the transfer dealings both in and out of the club, and Keegan wasn't happy with this. Ashley eventually talked Keegan around, suggesting that it would give Keegan more time on the pitch and that it was the best way forward.

Keegan chose to stay, perhaps because the size of the challenge ahead of him enthralled him. And after an initially poor start, losing his first eight games in charge, Keegan guided Newcastle to safety.

Strangely for the ever optimistic Keegan, after a defeat to Chelsea he told a press conference that Newcastle would never challenge for major honours again. Ashley was furious, but Keegan had drawn attention to the lack of ambition at the club.

Throughout the summer rumours of Keegan's unhappiness under the Ashley regime persisted. Ashley made little or no money available, and players were offered around the Premiership.

James Milner was sold without Keegan's knowledge, and rumour has it that Michael Owen being offered around was the straw that broke the camel's back.

If you've lasted this long and read this much I hope I've shown that as a player Keegan never gave up. If he wanted to achieve something it was up to himself and he worked hard to attain it.

His career as a player is spectacular, but it was all down to him. He shaped his own destiny.

This is perhaps Keegan's downfall as a manager, because no matter how hard you try. and no matter how well you organise, you cannot foresee every outcome.

During his first term as Newcastle manager, Keegan signed who he wanted and played the way he wanted—but he just couldn't win the title no matter how hard he tried.

Something always conspired against him. It was this that eventually led him to walk away the first time.

At England, blind optimism carried him on. He really believed his approach could carry England forward, and when it couldn't again he resigned.

During his charge at City, Keegan actually seemed at peace with himself. But during this period they never challenged and this going with the flow was never going to be good enough for Keegan.

And now, back in charge of Newcastle, Keegan finds his authority eroded, his responsibility diminished, and once again he sees all the outside influences he can't control sniping at his heels, driving him mad.

As I write this, depending on which media source you listen to, Keegan is either still in charge or has resigned. Personally, I hope he resigns. Mike Ashley doesn't know what he's doing and Keegan is too good for him.

But if Keegan does go, a little bit of every supporter goes with him.

We'll all miss his optimism.